Georgia has found itself a couple rising stars so far this fall. While junior quarterback Stetson Bennett has captured the attention of Georgia fans with his unexpected breakthrough performances in Weeks 1 and 2, redshirt sophomore receiver Kearis Jackson has been the fuel for Bennett’s fire.
“Kearis is one of our leaders. He’s one of our toughest players,” head coach Kirby Smart said in a virtual postgame press conference. “He does what he’s supposed to do when he’s supposed to do it. And he deserved that game [against Auburn] probably more than anybody.”
Jackson finished the night with a career-high 147 yards on a career-high nine receptions. While those numbers are dominant for any wideout, they’re especially impressive given Jackson’s lack of involvement last season.
After Arkansas, Jackson had already bested his five-reception total across 11 appearances in 2019, and was 17 yards shy of topping his total season production as a redshirt freshman.
“We knew that last year wasn’t the year we wanted to have [as receivers],” Jackson said. “And this year we just wanted to come out and be explosive. … We still do certain routes after practice just to make us get better [and] help the timing get better because we know what we want, and it showed tonight.”
Georgia’s top receiver against the Razorbacks, Jackson found a rhythm with Bennett last week that sparked the Bulldogs’ second half offense. Saturday, the rhythm was there immediately.
It seemed each time Georgia needed a break on third down or a push downfield, Jackson found the ball in his hands.
“Kearis was open a lot tonight,” Bennett said. “And he played a heck of a game.”
The quarterback-receiver duo first riled up the Georgia faithful when Bennett escaped the Auburn rush on third and long during Georgia’s opening drive. Jackson, who said he was floating in the soft spot of Auburn’s zone pass defense, made a sliding grab to keep the Bulldogs rolling toward their first score of the night. Yet Jackson didn’t attribute he and Bennett’s synergy in key moments to a special connection with the quarterback.
“It doesn’t matter what quarterback is out there,” Jackson said. “My job was just to get open and I was able to do that tonight, and I have to continue to do that.”
The highlight of Jackson’s night, and perhaps the game, came in the second quarter. Given plenty of time in the pocket, Bennett heaved the ball toward Jackson streaking down the middle of the field. It wasn’t an exceptional pass, forcing Jackson — who’d created a few yards of space between himself and multiple trailing Auburn defensive backs — to slow down and find the ball. He snagged it right as the Tigers pounced, setting up the touchdown that put Georgia ahead 24-0.
By the end of the first half, Jackson had already accumulated 102 yards and majority of his catches. The Bulldogs only completed six passes in the second half as they kept it on the ground to run out the clock, but Jackson caught two of them. He ended up securing more receptions and more yards than the rest of Georgia’s receiving corps combined.
While he’s emerged as Georgia’s top receiving threat so far this season, Jackson isn’t ready to rest on his laurels just yet. There’s one statistic from last year he has yet to improve.
“I’m still not satisfied,” Jackson said. “I gotta get in the end zone.”